Last Updated: May 17
Playlists aren’t just the wave of the future, they’re what’s happening right now. Maybe that’s why hip-hop and playlists go together so well. Hip-hop has always been modern, young, of-the-moment, so it only makes sense that so many artists in hip-hop owe much of their success to playlists — but playlists are also successful because of the artists on them.
Placement on just the right playlist can now make or break a rapper or singer’s career, but the right rapper or singer on a playlist can skyrocket that list’s placement right to the forefront of its specific service. Now, while it’s easy to simply grab the Rap Caviar playlist, one of Spotify’s top lists and the launching pad for many a rapper’s career, half the fun of hip-hop is in the discovery, digging into the genre to find new, exciting corners of the culture or an unfamiliar sound or artist to explore.
This list is a starting point for that discovery; by no means are these the only playlists worth checking out on Spotify, but they’ll take you beyond the sounds of the moment or just the convenient, mass-marketed artists du jour into a real hip-hop history lesson that won’t put you to sleep or yell at you to get off its lawn. It may not make you an expert overnight, but it will expand your palate, give you some food for thought, and maybe most importantly, make you nod your head and/or shake a tailfeather or two.
chillanimebeats by chillanimebeats
If you’re wondering how anime ties into this list, just know that once upon a time, an enterprising Vine user did his or her best to perfectly sync 6-second loops of instrumental hip-hop to scenes from various anime with varying degrees of success. Here’s a list for fans of jazzy, downtempo instrumental hip-hop, or as seemingly the entirety of the internet loves to refer to it, “beats to study to.” It’s been a while since I’ve had to do any studying so I’ll take their word for it, but these low-key, stripped-down beats from the likes of Psalm Trees and Pete Rock present the essence of hip-hop at its most straightforward — simple drum patterns and easygoing loops evoke a relaxingly hypnotic atmosphere. These are great for setting the mood or unwinding after a long day at work, or for the amateur or aspiring rapper, fantastic backdrops for some lyrical batting practice to sharpen your skills.
COLORS by COLORS Studio
Based on one of my favorite Youtube channels, the COLORS show is centered on a simple idea: A genre-less vision of the future of music, rooted in plain, unadorned performances against brightly colored backdrops. Artists don’t bring DJs or bands or props. It’s just the artist, the background, and the beautiful, bold backdrop in a stunning array of Pantone hues. It’s a fantastic discovery method for new artists, but it’s also a great way for established ones to prove their well-honed chops can measure up without their usual onstage accoutrements. Prior guests have included Topaz Jones, Goldlink, Masego, Smino, Little Simz, J Dilla’s little brother Illa J, Oddisee, and recent Coachella standout Aminé. COLORS Studio helpfully offers a color-coded listing of their guests by genre on Spotify, so enjoy the selection of “alternative” hip-hop artists on tap, but don’t hesitate to check out their profile and the other eclectic sounds available from previous shows.
DJ Mustard & The One-Beats by Jeff Rosenthal
Jeff Rosenthal from ItTheReal had a simple idea: What if someone compiled every hit record Long Beach ratchet rap producer DJ Mustard ever made into one comprehensive list? The answer is an absolutely monstrous, 86-song playlist that belies the stereotype of DJ Mustard as a one-trick pony of a producer while providing a daunting 5-hour backing track for what may end up feeling like a truly endless turn-up. This was cooked up some years ago, and so lacks many of Mustard’s more-recent productions, but the fact that you can basically almost pack a full work day of just songs DJ Mustard produced in a maybe four or five year window — and identify nearly every song as an obnoxiously ubiquitous hit — is not just astonishing, it’s inspiring. DJ Mustard’s done more with that one-beat drop and a few handclaps than many producers have been able to accomplish in twice the time and an array of sounds. All hail the “Mustard on the beat, hoe” ad-lib — may it reign for another 10 summers.
Mind Right by Spotify
“Nobody in hip-hop just raps anymore,” say a frankly frustrating number of so-called real hip-hop heads who claim to enjoy rap with an emphasis on lyricism and harder-edged bangers with more boom bap than 808 trap. This is the list to whip out to not only prove those new school haters incorrect but hopefully convert them into believers in the continued relevance of multisyllabic rhyme schemes and coolly worded punchlines. There are plenty of well-known names here, like Nipsey Hussle and ASAP Rocky, two deft rhymers whose skills may be overlooked by fans who incorrectly assume that their modern beats prelude an old-school, bars-first mentality, but there are also plenty of sneaky, under-the-radar inclusions like Nick Grant, Lute, and Rapper Big Pooh (formerly of Little Brother). It’s worth checking out, if only to prove that plenty of modern rappers are proudly bearing the torch for lyricism in hip-hop.